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Wide BandGap Semiconductors (WBG) - Why we should care.

Blog Post created by mdunn Employee on Oct 17, 2018

I'm sure most of you have heard about WBG semiconductors recently; specifically Silicon Carbide (SiC) and Gallium Nitride (GaN).  The primary, but not exclusive, context was probably related to Power Electronics.  So let's explore at a high level why this technology is increasingly getting more and more attention in the Industry.  It basically comes down to simply 3 things – smaller, faster and more efficient electronics.

 

WBG can operate at higher temperatures, handle 10x higher voltages and eliminate up to 90% of the power losses in electricity transfer compared to current technology.  This will result in lower cost electronics and save billions of $s in energy.

 

Power supplies including adapters used to charge laptops, cell phones and tablets use at least 2% of all US energy. WBG can make chargers 3-5 x smaller and cut the heat loss by 75-80%.  This is equivalent to the power generated by 3 Hoover Dams a year!

 

LEDs use WBG semiconductors to produce 10x more light per watt of energy than incandescent bulbs and last 30x longer.

 

At today's energy costs WBG semiconductors are expected to save $250 Billion in cumulative energy costs by 2030.  As more renewable power is connected to the grid we will rely more on WBG electronics to transfer electricity. WBG semiconductors will reduce power losses in transmission by up to 75% leading to smaller power stations and lower cost for renewable energy.  This in turn will lead to lower cost electronics and billions of dollars in energy savings.

 

For Power Devices:

The advantages of SiC over Si for power devices include lower losses for higher efficiency, higher switching frequencies for more compact designs, robustness in harsh environments, and high breakdown voltages.  SiC also exhibits significantly higher thermal conductivity than Si, with temperature having little influence on its switching and thermal characteristics.  This allows operation of SiC devices in temperatures far beyond 150° C, the maximum operating temperature of Si, as well as a reduction in thermal management requirements for lower cost and smaller form factors.

 

For RF Devices:

GaN offers key advantages over silicon.  The high power density of GaN leads to smaller devices as well as smaller designs due to reduced input and output capacitance requirements, an increase in operational bandwidth, and easier impedance matching.  GaN's high breakdown field allows higher voltage operation and also eases impedance matching.  The broadband capability of GaN devices provides coverage for a broad frequency range to support both the application's center frequency as well as the signal modulation bandwidth.  Additional advantages of GaN include lower losses for higher efficiency, and high-temperature operation (in the case of GaN on bulk-GaN substrate).

 

In conclusion, WBG semiconductors will make the next generation of electronics smaller, faster and more efficient – there is little question on this point. This will have huge ramifications for the entire energy/electronics industry – from power stations to renewable energy to electric automobiles to personal computing and communication. All aspects of our lives will be positively impacted by this revolution.  The question for us is not if, but when, the current design methodology and models will hit the proverbial brick wall? 

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